XXI. Robin's Inn
 

A big maple sheltered the house of the widow Vaughn. After the noon hour of a summer day its tide of shadow began flowing fathoms deep over house and garden to the near field, where finally it joined the great flood of night. The maple was indeed a robin's inn at some crossing of the invisible roads of the air. Its green dome towered high above and fell to the gable end of the little house. Its deep and leafy thatch hid every timber of its frame save the rough column. Its trunk was the main beam, each limb a corridor, each tier of limbs a floor, and branch rose above branch like steps in a stairway. Up and down the high dome of the maple were a thousand balconies overlooking the meadow.

From its highest tier of a summer morning the notes of the bobolink came rushing off his lyre, and farther down the golden robin sounded his piccolo. But, chiefly, it was the home and refuge of the familiar red-breasted robin. The inn had its ancient customs. Each young bird, leaving his cradle, climbed his own stairway till he came out upon a balcony and got a first timid look at field and sky. There he might try his wings and keep in the world he knew by using bill and claw on the lower tiers.

At dawn the great hall of the maple rang with music, for every lodger paid his score with song. Therein it was ever cool, and clean, and shady, though the sun were hot. Its every nook and cranny was often swept and dusted by the wind. Its branches leading up and outward to the green wall were as innumerable stairways. Each separate home was out on rocking beams, with its own flicker of sky light overhead. For a time at dusk there was a continual flutter of weary wings at the lower entrance, a good night twitter, and a sound of tiny feet climbing the stairways in that gloomy hall. At last, there was a moment of gossip and then silence on every floor. There seemed to be a night-watch in the lower hall, and if any green young bird were late and noisy going up to his home, he got a shaking and probably lost a few feathers from the nape of his neck. Long before daybreak those hungry, half-clad little people of the nests began to worry and crowd their mothers. At first, the old birds tried to quiet them with caressing movements, and had, at last, to hold their places with bill and claw. As light came an old cock peered about him, stretched his wings, climbed a stairway, and blew his trumpet on the outer wall. The robin's day had begun.

Mid-autumn, when its people shivered and found fault and talked of moving, the maple tried to please them with new and brighter colours--gold, with the warmth of summer in its look; scarlet, suggesting love and the June roses. Soon it stood bare and deserted. Then what was there in the creak-and-whisper chorus of the old tree for one listening in the night? Belike it might be many things, according to the ear, but was it not often something to make one think of that solemn message: "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble"? They who lived in that small house under the tree knew little of all that passed in the big world. Trumpet blasts of fame, thunder of rise and downfall, came faintly to them. There the delights of art and luxury were unknown. Yet those simple folk were acquainted with pleasure and even with thrilling and impressive incidents. Field and garden teemed with eventful life and hard by was the great city of the woods.